This is my Father’s world
with TERRA BEATA (TERRA PATRIS)
Text. This hymn is by Presbyterian pastor Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858–1901), from his collection Thoughts for Every-Day Living (New York, C. Scribner's Sons, 1901 | Fig. 1). The original form of the text was in sixteen stanzas of four lines, headed “My Father’s World,” without music.
Fig. 1. Maltbie D. Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living (New York, C. Scribner's Sons, 1901).
Babcock also penned an essay, “The Father of Lights,” for this book, which explores this theme in other ways.
What the sun in the heavens is to the earth, that the Father is to us. Was there ever an act of unenlightened worship more dignified and exalted than his who, from his silent hilltop, watched the flushing east, and bowed before the great daybringing, life-giving sun? … The blaze of a pine knot, the shining lamp, the glowing of coals or their reduction and refinement in jets of light, all are only the release of imprisoned sun shine. The gentle beauty of the rainbow, the blue of sky and sea, the endless joy of the flowers, the witchery of spring, the luxury of summer, the wealth of autumn, the flashing splendor of a snowy field, all bless the sun for their being. …
Every gift is from above to take our thoughts and thanks above. God’s gifts are to lift up our faces to His, to awaken us to love Him. Every bad and imperfect thing drags us down to darkness; every good and perfect gift woos us into the light. The birds and flowers are His appeal to trust; the stately order of the heavens, to symmetry and steadiness; the beauty of nature, to the beauty of holiness; the affections of earth, to the perfect love of which they are but dear fragments. And God be thanked for his supreme appeal—that good and perfect gift, the gift unspeakable: His life, His love, His very self in Jesus Christ (pp. 112-114).
In 1937, Methodist hymnologist Robert Guy McCutchan offered this story about Babcock:
It is said that when Doctor Babcock, a great lover of nature, would frequently go in the early morning to the top of a hill north of Lockport, New York, his first pastorate, in order to get the full benefit of the fine view of Lake Ontario and the country lying between, he would say, “I am going out to see my Father’s world.”
Babcock’s hymn is a meditation on God’s creative work, the echoes of his voice in creation, and the praise offered back to the Creator. Some scriptural allusions include the dawn of creation (Genesis 1) in stanza 1, possibly including the “morning stars” of Job 38:7, Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28) in stanza 7, the burning bush (Exodus 3) in stanza 8, the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) in stanza 9, and a promised rest (Matthew 11:28) in stanza 12. In hymnals, the text is usually reduced in length, typically starting with the second stanza, reformatted into groups of eight lines to make three double-length stanzas.
Hymnologist Armin Haeussler offered this fine summary of Babcock’s hymn:
Babcock brings us the message of God’s presence, God’s personality, God’s power, and God’s purpose, through this inspired bit of verse. It is thus not a mere outburst of song about nature, but a seasoned appreciation, beautifully worded, of unfailing trust in the ways and judgments of God.
Tune. The tune most commonly associated with Babcock’s text is TERRA BEATA (or TERRA PATRIS), adapted by Franklin L. Sheppard (1852–1930) for this text and first published in this form in Alleluia (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1915 | Fig. 2). Sheppard and Babcock are reported to have been good friends.
Sheppard credited the tune as “Traditional English Melody” and is reported to have learned it in his childhood. Hymnologists believe this tune is based on the tune known as RUSPER, as in the English Hymnal (Oxford: University Press, 1906 | Fig. 3).
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
18 June 2019
Robert Guy McCutchan, “This is my Father’s world,” Our Hymnody: A Manual of the Methodist Hymnal, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1942), p. 103.
Armin Haeussler, The Story of Our Hymns: The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (Saint Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1952), p. 117.
William Chalmers Covert & Calvin Weiss Laufer, eds., “This is my Father’s world,” Handbook to the Hymnal (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, 1936), pp. 84-85.
William J. Reynolds, “This is my Father’s world,” Hymns of Our Faith (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1964), p. 210.
Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, “This is my Father’s world,” (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), pp. 559-560.
Milburn Price, “This is my Father’s world,” Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), pp. 255-256.
Paul Westermeyer, “This is my Father’s world,” Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010), pp. 700-702.
Carl P. Daw Jr. “This is my Father’s world,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 376-377.
“This is my Father’s world,” Hymnary.org: